Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Steven B. Smith's "Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes"

Steven B. Smith is Alfred Cowles Professor of Political Science and professor of philosophy at Yale University. He is the author of numerous books, including Modernity and Its Discontents.

Smith applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes, and reported the following:
The Page 99 test works quite well for my book. It is close to the center of the book and as discerning readers know, the middle is always the most important part.

Page 99 begins a section titled “Constitutional Faith” and it introduces the idea of what is unique about American patriotism. American patriotism is rooted in a form of faith or reverence for the Constitution. This quasi-religious faith is sometimes referred to as a civil religion but it is a religion of a peculiar kind.

American patriotism is not rooted in nationalistic beliefs about blood and soil or on religious beliefs about divine promises but has always been based on reason. From our beginnings patriotism has contained a deliberative and self-questioning character. “Who are we?” “What do we stand for?” are questions that have been at the core of our national identity. To be an American is to be continually engaged in asking what it means to be an American.

Patriotism, I argue, is an ancient but often misunderstood disposition. The term derives from the Greek patris (place of one’s ancestors) and the Latin patria (fatherland). Both are inseparable from the word politics. As the name suggests, patriotism is associated with love of country where this means what do we look up to as a people. American patriotism has always had an aspirational quality. It means devotion not only to what we are but what we hope to be as this expressed in our founding documents.

Today patriotism is under attack from both left and right. From the left, cosmopolitans reject it because they think patriotism is like some mafia code of omertà that requires unconditional loyalty and a willful blindness to our national failings. From the right, nationalists basically agree with that premise but choose loyalty over free thought, seeing criticism of America as treasonous. Both of these attacks are wrong. At its best, patriotism isn’t indoctrination into a cult of the nation but a form of moral education. Patriotism teaches that real loyalty to our country involves virtues like civility, law-abidingness, respect for others, responsibility, love of honor, courage and leadership. Rather than saying “my country right or wrong,” patriotism is reflective and self-critical, working to bring America closer to the country it can and should be.
Learn more about Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes at the Yale University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue